The Easy Path - Selections

Illuminating the First Panchen Lama’s Secret Instructions

1. The Preliminaries

I always bow down at the feet of the perfect sublime guru, indistinguishable from Shakyamuni Buddha, Vajradhara. Please look after me with great compassion.

Easy Path begins with these lines paying homage to the guru. With the phrase "perfect, sublime guru," Panchen Rinpoche is paying respect to his root teacher, Khedrup Sangye Yeshe. He refers to the guru as inseparable from Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, and also from Vajra-dhara, which is the exalted form that Buddha takes when teaching tantra. As we'll see later on, this viewing of our spiritual teacher as inseparable from Shakyamuni, who's also inseparable from Vajradhara, has deep meaning for our practice.

Herein is the guide to the stages of the path to enlightenment, the profound method of fortunate persons traveling to buddhahood. This has two sections: (I) how to rely upon the spiritual teacher, the root of the path, and (II) once relying, the stages of mental training.

Relying on the Spiritual Teacher

  1. How to rely upon the spiritual teacher, the root of the path
    1. What to do during the actual meditation session
      1. Preparation
      2. The actual session
        1. How to rely in thought
          1. Training in faith, the root [of the practice]
          2. Recollecting the spiritual teacher's kindness and being respectful
        2. How to rely in deed
      3. Conclusion
    2. What to do between meditation sessions

I've already explained why relying on the spiritual teacher comes first and then the various stages of mental training are presented. "Fortunate persons" sometimes refers to actual bodhisattvas, but here it refers to anyone who aspires to buddhahood.

I've also already explained that for each meditation subject, Easy Path describes the preparation, how to engage in the actual meditation session, and what to do between sessions. So now, before getting into the actual meditation on relying on the teacher, I'll explain the preliminary practices.

Preliminary Practices

The six preliminary practices are very important, for they contain the essence of the Perfection of Wisdom sutras and of the Ornament for Clear Realizations. If you do these six properly, they also transmit the essence of the stages-of-the-path and mind-training instructions. They, and especially the seven-limb prayer, which is the fifth practice, serve as the main source for realizing all Buddhist practices. In particular, the preliminaries as taught in Easy Path integrate many profound points from tantra and also from the precious oral tradition coming from Atisha and Lama Tsongkhapa.

Preparation
In an agreeable place sit upon a comfortable cushion in the eightfold meditation posture or in whatever posture puts you at ease. Then, after examining your mind thoroughly, generate an exceptional virtuous mind.

There are six preliminary practices. Easy Path doesn't mention the first two. With its mention of the eightfold posture, Easy Path begins from the third preliminary practice. The full list of six are: (1) cleaning your room and arranging symbols of buddhas' body, speech, and mind; (2) obtaining offerings honestly and arranging them beautifully; (3) sitting in the eightfold meditation posture of Vairochana and then taking refuge and generating bodhichitta; (4) visualizing the merit field; (5) practicing the seven-limb prayer; (6) making requests following the oral instructions.

Cleaning Your Room

"Your room" here is the room you meditate in. You first establish your motivation for cleaning, thinking: "In order to attain full enlightenment, I must practice the stages of the path, and to do that I must invite holy beings. Before inviting the holy beings in order to meditate effectively on the stages of the path to enlightenment, I will clean this place with bodhichitta motivation—to attain buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings." Whenever we meditate on the stages of the path, we align our motivation with bodhichitta.

Buddhist sutras teach five benefits of cleaning your meditation room: it makes your mind happy, it makes others' minds happy, it makes the gods who delight in virtue (whether worldly or enlightened gods) happy, it creates a karma to have a -beautiful form in future lives, and finally it creates karma to be reborn in divine places: cleaning your meditation room clears away obstacles and creates karma to be reborn in the pure land of a buddha.

When cleaning your meditation room, you can extend your visualization and increase your merit by imagining you're also cleaning other holy places, such as Bodhgaya where Shakyamuni Buddha became enlightened and any other sacred place you can remember or imagine. You can create lots of merit by visualizing in that way; it has the same karmic benefit as actually cleaning those places! Your home may already be very neat, but to fulfill this part of your practice, still clean your statues and altar. To clean we usually use a broom; imagine that the broom or other cleaning implement is in the nature of wisdom understanding emptiness. As you clean with it, imagine that this emptiness wisdom is cleaning away your negative thoughts and emotions.

While cleaning your meditation room, you can recite, "Abandon dirt, abandon stains." This brief verse comes from the story of Panthaka. Panthaka was a dull-witted monk. When he tried to memorize texts, as soon as he went on to the second syllable, he'd forget the first syllable! To help this monk of such low faculties, the Buddha gave him the job of cleaning the monks' sandals and later also of sweeping the temple. The Buddha taught him to recite this very verse as he cleaned. Over time, Panthaka came to understand that the verse was not referring to outer dirt or stains but rather to negative emotions and ignorance. Through the virtues he gained by cleaning with this awareness, he became an arya—a noble being who gained a direct perception of the truth of selflessness.

In your clean meditation room, display holy objects representing the Buddha's holy body, speech, and mind. To represent the holy body, you should have a statue of the Buddha and perhaps a statue of Lama Tsongkhapa. To represent the Buddha's speech, you can display a Buddhist text, such as the Perfection of Wisdom in 100,000 Verses, the Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 Verses, or the Vajra Cutter Sutra. To represent the Buddha's mind, you should display a stupa or a vajra and bell.When you see a vajra and bell, recall that the vajra represents bodhichitta—the method aspect of the path—and the bell represents emptiness—the wisdom aspect of the path. The purpose of having these holy objects is for you to look at them every morning to remind yourself of the holy qualities of the Buddha's body, speech, and mind. Even if you look at holy objects with anger, you still create good karma, creating an imprint to see thousands of buddhas in the future. If you look with faith, then the good karma you create is simply tremendous. It's excellent to look at those holy objects every morning.

Making Offerings

The second preparatory practice is to arrange offerings on your altar. There are two faults to avoid regarding offerings: the origin fault and the motivation fault. The fault of origin is offering something you've acquired through wrong livelihood or through misdeeds, such as stealing, harming others, or cheating someone. If you already have some offerings that were acquired through misdeeds, you can offer them, but in the future you must try hard to avoid such faults. The fault of motivation is making offerings with mundane hopes of gaining wealth, good health, or higher rebirth. Instead of harboring such expectations when making offerings, think that you are making offerings for the benefit of all sentient beings.

When making offerings you can also do extensive visualizations. Even if you're offering just a single flower, picture yourself offering flowers to all the buddhas everywhere, to every stupa that exists, and so forth. In this way you create far more extensive merit. Since the power of your Dharma practice is determined by your motivation, establish your motivation clearly at the beginning.

Your rows of water bowls should be straight, not crooked, and all the offerings should be arranged beautifully.

Sit in the Eightfold Posture

Choose an agreeable place for your meditation cushion. Under your cushion, it's good if you can place durva grass, kusha grass, and a drawing of a swastika. Durva grass, which has many joints, is auspicious for long life. Kusha grass, which is sometimes used in India for making brooms, is auspicious for cleansing contaminants and negativities. The swastika, an ancient symbol from India signifying power and stability, is auspicious for making your practice firm and successful. If you place those materials under your cushion, then you are following the example of Buddha Shakyamuni, who placed those materials under his cushion when he became enlightened. If you're doing a retreat on the stages of the path, then you should have a separate cushion for your retreat and if possible put those objects under that cushion. For regular daily practice, this is not required.

For meditation, the seven-point posture of Vairochana is usually taught, and here breathing meditation is added to make eight points. The first point is the legs, which ideally are placed in vajra posture, with the right foot on the left thigh and the left foot on the right thigh. There is also a half-vajra posture, where only one foot rests on the opposite thigh while the other rests beneath the opposite knee. If you're not comfortable in vajra posture, you can begin by sitting in vajra posture and then change to a regular crossed-leg posture.

The second point is the hands, which rest below the navel in the meditation mudra, or gesture, with the left hand below the right and thumbs touching. Touching the tips of your two thumbs creates a triangle shape, symbolizing the three doors of liberation—emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness. This triangle also symbolizes the body, speech, and mind of the Buddha. Also, the right thumb represents bodhichitta and the left thumb represents wisdom understanding emptiness; their touching represents the union of those two factors.

The third point is that your back should be erect. Keeping your back straight opens up the channels of your body, allowing the subtle wind energies to flow in a smooth and balanced way. As the mind follows these winds, this makes it easier to control your mind. If you lean to the right, this puts pressure on your right channel, through which the wind associated with anger flows, making you more likely to generate anger. If you lean to the left, this puts pressure on your left channel, through which the wind associated with attachment flows, making you more likely to generate attachment. Due to the movements of the winds, leaning back makes you more likely to generate pride, and leaning forward makes it more likely to generate dullness. To avoid those negative factors, try to keep your posture upright when meditating.

The fourth point relates to your mouth: leave your lips, teeth, and tongue however feels natural for you. The fifth point is to keep your head bent slightly forward. The sixth is to keep your eyes open but lowered, so that you're looking toward the tip of your nose. If you find it easier to meditate with your eyes closed, that's acceptable occasionally, but generally it's better to meditate with your eyes open. The seventh point is to keep your shoulders straight but relaxed.

From the perspective of highest yoga tantra, the elements of this posture help you to control the five primary and five secondary wind energies of your body. Having the legs crossed in vajra posture controls the downward-coursing wind, having your hands in the meditation mudra just below the navel controls the equalizing wind, having your back straight controls the all-pervasive wind, having your shoulders straight controls the life-sustaining wind, and having your head bent slightly forward with the tongue touching the palate controls the upward-coursing wind. Having the eyes aimed at the tip of your nose helps control the secondary winds associated with sensory consciousness. There are many profound benefits of this posture, so when you sit down to meditate, scan your body to confirm that your posture includes these seven points.

Having checked your posture, next check your mind. If it's in a negative state, you can do breathing meditation to bring the mind into a neutral state. It's good to begin with the nine-round breathing exercise. For this you begin by inhaling three times through the right nostril, exhaling from the left. Then inhale three times through the left nostril, exhaling from the right. Then inhale three times through both nostrils, also exhaling from both. With each inhalation, imagine breathing in all the qualities, all the compassion and wisdom, of the buddhas. With each exhalation, imagine breathing out all your negative thoughts and emotions. This helps bring your mind to a neutral state. After the nine-round breathing exercise, if your mind is still distracted, worried, or in some other negative state, then just focus on your breathing for a while, perhaps counting up to twenty-one breaths.

After this, Easy Path says to generate an exceptional virtuous mind, meaning that you should again generate bodhichitta motivation.

Taking Refuge

Next comes visualizing the objects of our refuge.

From within that [visualize as follows]: In the space directly in front of me is a high, wide, jeweled throne supported by eight great lions, upon which is a seat of a multicolored lotus, and moon and sun mandalas. Upon that sits my kind root guru in the aspect of the Conqueror, Shakyamuni Buddha. His body is the color of refined gold. His head has a crown protrusion. He has one face and two arms. His right hand presses the earth. In his left hand, which is in the gesture of meditative equipoise, rests an alms bowl filled with nectar. He wears elegantly the three saffron robes of a monk. He has a body of pristine, luminous light that is adorned by the marks and signs. He sits in the vajra posture amid an aura of light.

Surrounding him is a host of transcendental beings: your direct and lineage gurus, meditational deities, buddhas, bodhisattvas, heroes, heroines, and an assembly of Dharma protectors. In front of each of them upon marvelous thrones sits the Dharma explained by them in the form of texts made of light. The members of the merit field are in the aspect of being pleased with me. By remembering their qualities and kindness, I feel great devotion for them.

In the space before you at a distance of one full-length prostration is a throne upheld by eight lions, representing the eight powers of the Buddha. On that is a multipetaled lotus atop which are moon and sun cushions. These symbolize the three principles of the path—renunciation, bodhichitta, and right view of emptiness, respectively—implying how all in the merit field possess those three qualities. On this main throne, visualize your guru in the form of Shakyamuni Buddha. His right hand touching the earth symbolizes his conquering one of the four obstructing maras—devaputra, the divine son. On a gross level, the divine son can be understood as the worldly god of the desire realm who leads other desire-realm gods in efforts to obstruct those practicing virtue. They may do so by causing distractions or, most powerfully, by causing divisions in the Sangha. On a subtle level, this mara can be understood as your own subtle obscurations to omniscience, to achieving the mind of a buddha. The Buddha's begging bowl being filled with nectar having three qualities symbolizes his conquering the other three maras—the mara of the afflictive emotions, the mara of the aggregates, and the mara of death. He has the major and minor marks of a buddha. He sits with legs crossed in vajra posture; visualizing him in that posture leaves an imprint for you to later realize the completion stage of highest yoga tantra.

Around this central throne are four other thrones. On the throne behind Shakyamuni Buddha sits Vajradhara, who's surrounded by the gurus of the lineage of oral instructions. On Shakyamuni's right is Maitreya and gurus of the lineage of extensive deeds. On his left is Manjushri and gurus of the lineage of the profound view. In front of Shakyamuni is your root guru and all your personal teachers. Shakyamuni is a bit higher than the others. Each of the four surrounding thrones has the lineage gurus sitting on the throne with their respective central figure, encircling him.

All five of those thrones are themselves on a single, very large throne. On that large throne, other enlightened beings are there in circles surrounded the four thrones just mentioned. Closest in is a circle of deities of highest yoga tantra, and then around those deities come circles of deities of each of the other three classes of tantra. Around them is a circle of buddhas such as the eight Medicine Buddhas and so forth. Around them is a circle of bodhisattvas including the eight great bodhisattvas. Then come circles of solitary realizers, hearers, dakas, dakinis, and Dharma protectors. In this tradition of the stages of the path, the main protectors are Six-Armed Mahakala for practitioners of great scope, Vaishravana for practitioners of middle scope, and Dharmaraja for practitioners of small scope.

In front of each figure in the refuge field is a table on which sits his or her teachings in the form of a text made of light. Just as a mother is pleased when seeing her child doing well at taking care of herself, the members of this refuge field are pleased because they only care for sentient beings' welfare, and now they see you taking responsibility for yourself by engaging in meditation on the stages of the path.

Next, produce great faith remembering the qualities of the beings in the refuge field, such as their great compassion and altruism equally embracing all sentient beings.

Within that context, think as follows:

From beginningless time up to now, I and all mother sentient beings have been experiencing the manifold general sufferings of samsara and especially the sufferings of the three lower realms. Even so, it remains difficult for us to infer the depth and extent of our suffering.

Imagine yourself in front of the refuge field with all your male relatives on your right and all your female relatives on your left. Imagine all enemies, evil beings, demons, and harmful spirits in front of you. Imagine your friends behind you. And all around are the beings experiencing the sufferings of the six realms, such as the hells, but visualized in human form.

This practice of taking refuge is very important. Even if you can't do other practices intensively, practicing refuge is sufficient. Here I'll give a brief explanation of how to take refuge, and then more details will come at the section of Easy Path on refuge practice.

The verse above evokes one of the two essential, causal factors for taking refuge: fear of samsara. You must be afraid of something to sincerely seek a refuge. The verse mentions how we've been suffering from beginningless time. Here you can bring to mind the three, six, or eight types of suffering. For example, the eight types of suffering include the sufferings of being born, aging, sickness, death, separation from what is attractive, meeting with disagreeable things, seeking but not obtaining what you desire, and having a body and mind created by delusions and karma. Here, as the verse says, you can particularly think of the sufferings of the three lower realms—those of hell beings, hungry ghosts, and animals. Particularly focus on the sufferings of the hot hells, the cold hells, and the neighboring hells. Recognizing that you could very easily come to experience those sufferings in the future, you generate fear of samsara.

At this time I have obtained an exceptional human birth, which is difficult to find and, once found, so valuable. At this time, if I do not obtain at once the high state of a guru buddha, the superior liberation wherein one has abandoned all the sufferings of samsara, I will experience again either the suffering of samsara in general or that of the three lower realms in particular.

If you recognize the rarity and preciousness of your human life and see the danger of falling into lower realms, then you will generate fear of not engaging in Dharma practice!

My guru and the Three Jewels, who are sitting in front of me, have the ability to protect me from those sufferings. Therefore I must at all costs attain the precious state of completely perfect buddhahood for the sake of all mother sentient beings. In order to do that, I will go for refuge from the depths of my heart to my guru and the Three Jewels.

This verse is for generating the second of the two essential, causal factors for taking refuge: faith in the objects of refuge, which include your gurus and the Three Jewels. Based on your fear of samsaric suffering, it's this faith that leads you to turn to them for refuge and protection. To generate faith in the Three Jewels, contemplate four of their qualities: they are free from suffering, they have unique methods to overcome suffering, they don't discriminate between sentient beings who honor or don't honor them, and they offer their help to every sentient being, neither discriminating nor excluding.

Regarding refuge, it's important to recall that among the Three Jewels, the Buddha is the teacher who gives instructions on how to overcome our sufferings, while the Dharma that he taught is the actual refuge that protects you. If you don't keep from the ten nonvirtuous actions, then the Buddha cannot protect you from suffering. Your own Dharma practice is what really protects you. If you practice Dharma then you can achieve buddhahood. The Sangha refuge are like friends or companions—-examples you can see. The great pandits such as the six ornaments and the two supreme ones were human beings who realized the Dharma. So you can take them as examples, thinking that you can do likewise.

Going for refuge involves getting closer to and more familiar with the Three Jewels, making it easier to receive their blessings. Your refuge shouldn't be half-hearted. You should develop a relationship of total trust and reliance, relying on them completely in all your activities. Reciting refuge verses is conventional refuge; actual refuge happens in the mind when you've developed fear of samsaric suffering as well as faith in the Three Jewels. Always coordinate your refuge practice with bodhichitta, remembering that you're practicing for the sake of all sentient beings.

So having contemplated to give rise to both fear of samsara and faith, you can recite:

I go for refuge to the Guru.
I go for refuge to the Buddha.
I go for refuge to the Dharma.
I go for refuge to the Sangha.

Another verse that can be recited while taking refuge is: "I go for refuge to the guru, the deity, and the Three Jewels." A third alternative for recitation is:

I go for refuge until I am enlightened
to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
Through the merits I create by practicing generosity and the other perfections,
may I attain the state of a buddha
to be able to benefit all sentient beings.

There's a practice of meditating on refuge while reciting a refuge verse one hundred thousand times. If you wish to do that practice, you can choose any one of these three verses according to your own preference. The last of the three also includes bodhichitta practice. For your daily practice, you can also choose any or all of these verses. As a minimum practice, you can recite the first verse, saying each line seven times while specifically meditating on that object of refuge.

While reciting such verses, continue visualizing all sentient beings around you in front of the refuge field. As you recite "I go for refuge to the guru," you can visualize light rays and five-colored nectars descending into you and all sentient beings. First they descend from Shakyamuni Buddha, who is inseparable from your own teachers. Then they descend from each of the other main figures—your root guru, Vajradhara, Maitreya, and Manjushri—each of whom is viewed as inseparable from your gurus. Then they descend from all five simultaneously. Finally, all five streams of light and nectar coming from all five combine into one that dissolves into you. As you do this, imagine purifying all negative karma created in relation to your gurus, such as by not putting their advice into practice, and also imagine receiving all the realizations and good qualities of the path. If you have time, you can do more recitations while individually thinking of each of your personal teachers.

Then, while reciting "I go for refuge to the Buddha," visualize that light and nectar come from the two categories of buddhas appearing in the refuge field. One category is buddhas of the Sutra Vehicle context, such as Shakyamuni Buddha, the eight Medicine Buddhas, and the thousand buddhas of this fortunate eon. The other category is buddhas of the Vajra Vehicle context, such as Guhyasamaja, Chakrasamvara, and all the other deities of the four classes of tantra. As you recite "I go for refuge to the Buddha," imagine the light and five-colored nectars entering through your crown and purifying all negative karma created in relation to the Buddha, such as putting Buddha statues on the ground, selling Buddha statues, injuring a buddha causing him or her to bleed, or discriminating judgmentally between Buddha statues based on the materials they're made from. Then also imagine you receive all good qualities.

While reciting "I go for refuge to the Dharma," visualize the light and nectar coming from texts that you previously visualized on tables in front of all the figures in the refuge field. This light and nectar purify negative karma created in relation to the Dharma by doing things like criticizing other religions, selling Dharma books for money, going against the advice of Dharma, such as by not helping and instead harming others, and so forth. After this purification, again imagine receiving all realizations and good qualities.

While reciting "I go for refuge to the Sangha," visualize light rays and nectar coming from bodhisattvas, solitary realizers, hearers, dakas, dakinis, and Dharma protectors. Remember and purify any negative karmic actions you've done in relation to the Sangha, and then also imagine receiving all the qualities as before.

Generating Bodhichitta and the Four Immeasurables

Next, Easy Path says:

Cultivate refuge, bodhichitta, and the four immeasurables.

As mentioned above, one often cultivates refuge and bodhichitta in tandem through reciting this verse:

I go for refuge until I am enlightened
to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
Through the merits I create by practicing generosity and the other perfections,
may I attain the state of a buddhato be able
to benefit all sentient beings.

Here one generates both aspiring and engaged bodhichitta. Aspiring bodhichitta is a compassionate wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings; as a wish it doesn't involve an actual commitment to action. Engaged bodhichitta includes that same wish along with a firm commitment to actually practice the path to enlightenment, which includes practicing generosity and the other five bodhisattva perfections.

In terms of your practice of the six perfections, it's essential to dedicate your practice to fully actualizing bodhichitta and progressing to full enlightenment. Again, the six perfections are: generosity, ethics, patience, joyful effort, concentration, and wisdom. The first three are especially emphasized for laypeople. Master Chandrakirti says in Entering the Middle Way, "Buddha said that the layperson's form is superior for practicing generosity and so forth." Giving things to those in need—this is generosity. You do such virtuous actions naturally in your life. Laypeople have more wealth and possessions than monks or nuns, so they can practice more generosity. For training in ethics, laypeople meet with more challenges that could provoke immoral actions. If you meet those challenges and remain ethical, then you create more good karma. Also you can take vows such as to avoid killing, lying, and so forth. Whether you take such vows for a day, a month, a year, or for your whole life, by keeping them you practice ethics. When you voluntarily meet hardships and challenges for your Dharma practice, you're practicing patience. When others harm you and you don't react angrily, again you're practicing patience. Monks and nuns meet with fewer occasions for developing patience than laypeople do, so it's easier for laypeople to create more good karma of patience. In general, these first three perfections are easier to practice as they don't require elaborate study or meditation. The practices of concentration and wisdom require intensive meditation, but sincerely giving to someone in need doesn't require study or meditation; anyone can do it. Patience is similar—if you don't react with attachment or aversion when someone harms you, this is a genuine practice of patience, whether or not you have developed the final two perfections.

Easy Path also teaches a third kind of bodhichitta called taking-the-result bodhichitta. This kind of practice usually appears in tantric sadhanas and is a form of taking the result as the path. Once you've generated aspirational and engaged bodhichitta, you see the Buddha in the refuge field in front of you. He's pleased with you and as a blessing sends an identical Buddha that dissolves into you. You transform into a buddha, and then you send out light rays transforming all realms to divine realms and all beings to buddhas. Since actual buddhas do send out light rays to fulfill the wishes of sentient beings, here you're imagining your future buddhahood, doing the activities of a buddha! This practice is really unique and precious. Imagining light rays transforming all places to divine realms and beings to divine beings allows you to create a lot of virtuous karma quite easily.

Next comes meditation on the four immeasurable attitudes—-immeasurable equanimity, compassion, love, and joy. You cultivate each of these immeasurable attitudes by meditating on four different levels of engagement or commitment to that attitude. For example, with love first you think how wonderful it would be if everyone were happy. Then you actually develop the loving wish for everyone to be happy. Then you bravely develop an attitude committed to making this come about yourself. And finally you request the blessings of the guru-deity to help you become able to accomplish that aspiration. Those same four levels of engagement apply to the other immeasurable attitudes as well.

Then produce the following thought seven, twenty-one, or however many times:

In particular, I must at all costs quickly, quickly attain the precious state of a completely perfect buddha for the sake of all mother sentient beings. In order to do that I will meditate on the instructions on the stages of the path to enlightenment through the profound path of guru-deity yoga.

This verse is for generating unique, special bodhichitta. This phrase, "quickly, quickly" comes when generating special bodhichitta in tantric practice. This verse is similar to another verse by Panchen Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen in the Guru Puja that says, "For the sake of all mother sentient beings I shall quickly, quickly, in this very life, attain the state of a primordial buddha, the guru deity."

There are a number of interpretations of the meaning of "quickly, quickly." A general interpretation is that the first "quickly" refers to engaging in tantric practice in general, which is a faster path than relying only on the vehicle of the perfections and which can lead one to attaining enlightenment in one lifetime. In this interpretation, the second "quickly" refers to engaging in particular in the practice of highest yoga tantra, through which one can attain enlightenment in one brief lifetime of this degenerate era. Another interpretation of "quickly, quickly" comes from Gyalwa Ensapa, who attained full enlightenment in one lifetime and who was the previous incarnation of the Panchen Lama who wrote Easy Path. Gyalwa Ensapa's interpretation comes from the Ganden Oral Tradition practice lineage. In this interpretation, the first "quickly" refers to practicing the stages-of-the-path tradition. There are special qualities of the stages-of-the-path tradition that make it an even faster path to enlightenment than the three lower classes of tantra. And then the second "quickly" refers to taking guru yoga as the very life of your practice.

In general, tantric practitioners take guru yoga as their primary practice. But here Gyalwa Ensapa refers to something unique to the Ganden Oral Tradition, which is taking guru yoga as the life of your practice. Taking guru yoga as your primary practice is not the same as taking it as the life of the practice. It is said that this is faster than highest yoga tantra and can lead to the attainment of enlightenment in just twelve years or even in just three years! Just practicing the stages of the path is quite different from practicing the stages of the path with guru yoga. Taking guru yoga as the life of your practice of the stages of the path and also as the life of your tantric practices such as those of Yamantaka and Guhyasamaja make those practices far more powerful.

The Panchen Lama is revealing something very profound in Easy Path from the oral tradition that came down from Gyalwa Ensapa. You'll note as we go along that the meditations on the stages of the path will be presented in the form of prayers, requesting blessings. This is to help you to integrate this practice of taking guru yoga as the life of your practice into all of your meditations.

Visualizing the Merit Field

Next comes visualizing the merit field, which is the fourth of the six preliminary practices. The merit field is different from the refuge field described above. After reciting the preceding prayer, you dissolve the refuge field. There are three ways of doing this. The first is to have the whole refuge field all dissolve into one figure—in this case Shakyamuni Buddha—who dissolves into the point between your eyebrows. The second is to have the entire refuge field dissolve into space-like emptiness. The third is to first generate the merit field and then dissolve the refuge field into the merit field.

Next [visualize the field for assembling merit as follows:] In the space directly in front of me is a high, wide, jeweled throne supported by eight great lions, upon which is a seat of a multicolored lotus, and moon and sun mandalas. Upon that is my kind root guru in the aspect of the Conqueror, Shakyamuni Buddha. His body is the color of refined gold. His head has a crown protrusion. He has one face and two arms. His right hand presses the earth. In his left hand, which is in the gesture of meditative equipoise, rests an alms bowl filled with nectar. He wears elegantly the three saffron robes of a monk. He has a body of pristine, luminous light that is adorned by the marks and signs. He sits in the vajra posture amid of an aura of light.

[In all directions the following beings are seated] upon lotus, moon, and sun cushions. Behind and above the guru-buddha is the conqueror Vajradhara, who is surrounded by the gurus of the lineage of the blessings of practice. To the guru-buddha's right is the venerable Maitreya, surrounded by the gurus of the lineage of extensive deeds. To his left is the venerable Manjushri, surrounded by the gurus of the lineage of the profound view. In front is your own kind root guru, surrounded by those gurus with whom you have a teaching connection. Encircling those are a host of transcendental beings—meditational deities, buddhas, bodhisattvas, heroes, heroines, and an assembly of Dharma protectors. In front of each of them upon marvelous thrones are their own verbal teachings in the form of texts with a nature of light.

The figures all send outward into the ten directions inconceivable arrays of emanations, which are taming disciples each according to [his or her individual capacity]. The principal and the accompanying members of the field have a white Om at the crown of their heads, a red Ah at their throats, a blue Hum at their hearts, a yellow Sva at their navels, and a green Ha at their secret regions. Light of these five colors radiates forth.

Rays of light from the Hum at the heart of Lord Guru Shakyamuni Buddha radiate in the ten directions. This light invites the wisdom beings corresponding to those upon whom you are meditating from their natural abodes. These [wisdom beings] dissolve into each commitment being. Thereby you should believe [each member of the merit field] to be a composite object of refuge.

There are numerous options for how to visualize the merit field. Swift Path, the Easy Path commentary by the Second Panchen Lama, says that one option is to use the merit field from the Guru Puja, so if you're familiar with that practice, then you can visualize like that. Since that merit field is also related to tantric practice, it's quite suitable to use with your meditations on Easy Path. If you do that, then when the guru comes to the crown of your head later in the practice, he will be in the form of Lama Tsongkhapa with Shakyamuni Buddha in his heart and with Vajradhara in the heart of Shakyamuni.

Another option is to use the merit field described here. For that, visualize a high, wide, jeweled throne at eye level one full prostration's length in front of you. Eight lions support the throne, upon which sits your root guru in the aspect of Shakyamuni Buddha. Behind this main figure is Vajradhara with the lineage gurus of the four classes of tantra sitting in a circle around him. On Shakyamuni Buddha's right is Maitreya surrounded by Asanga and the other gurus of the lineage of extensive deeds. On his left is Manjushri surrounded by Nagarjuna and the other gurus of the lineage of the profound view. Your own root guru is in front of Shakyamuni Buddha. Your root guru is a teacher who has given you profound Dharma teachings that have brought about some positive changes in your mind. When you do tantric practices such as Yamantaka, you think of the guru who gave you that initiation, commentary, or personal instructions on that practice as your root guru. Here you can visualize whichever teacher most helped change your mind for the better. Encircling these teachers, visualize meditational deities, buddhas, bodhisattvas, heroes, heroines, and protectors as you did for the refuge field.

Each figure in the merit field has a white Om at the crown, a red Ah at the throat, a blue Hum at the heart, a yellow Sva at the navel, and a green Ha at the secret place. Light rays of five colors radiate from those five syllables. The beings you've visualized up to this point are the commitment beings, the samaya sattvas. The light rays invite the wisdom beings, the jñana sattvas, to come and dissolve into the commitment beings, making them more powerful. The wisdom beings are the actual enlightened beings who come, so here you convince yourself that the actual guru-buddha is there.

When you invoke and visualize buddhas, they are actually there. Buddhas are omniscient and omnipresent. When the full moon is out, it appears effortlessly reflected in any body of water. Your faith is like the water; when you have the water of faith, the moon of the buddhas' presence will arise.

If you cannot visualize all the figures of the merit field clearly, then it is sufficient simply to imagine that they're there and to cultivate faith. Aku Sherap Gyatso taught that if you are not capable of elaborate visualizations, then you can simply imagine that all the enlightened beings are there in front of you like massed heaps of clouds.

Another option for the merit field is called the condensed-jewel method. That visualization comes later on in Easy Path, when all the other figures of the merit field dissolve into your own root guru, who comes atop your head in the form of Shakyamuni Buddha with Vajra-dhara in his heart. The condensed-jewel method entails visualizing just one figure atop your head embodying all your gurus, meditational deities, buddhas, bodhisattvas, heroes, heroines, and protectors. It's very effective to visualize one figure embodying all. If you find elaborate visualization difficult, you can apply that condensed-jewel method here, doing the remaining preliminary practices in relation to your guru in that form atop your crown.

The condensed-jewel method is a profound visualization that comes from Gyalwa Ensapa. Shakyamuni Buddha's form is the commitment being, and in his heart is Vajradhara as the wisdom being. In Vajradhara's heart is a syllable Hum that serves as the concentration being, or samadhi sattva. This is a tantric approach to visualization for guru yoga. This same visualization of the guru as a three-tiered being comes in the Guru Puja, all visualized inside the outer form of Lama Tsongkhapa.

The Seven-Limb Practice

Then offer the seven limbs of worship along with the mandala and make fervent and sincere prayers in accordance with your quintessential instructions.

Next offer a condensed practice of the seven limbs and a mandala offering. The seven practices are prostration, offering, confession, rejoicing, requesting the wheel of Dharma be turned, requesting the field of merit to not depart to nirvana, and dedication. Mandala offering is a separate practice from these seven. In some other texts it says "practice accumulating merit and purification"; this is a reference to the seven limbs. Confession is primarily for purification, and the other six are primarily for accumulating merit.

This practice of the seven limbs is very important, so I'll explain how to engage in it in some detail here. In the Tibetan tradition, nearly every prayer and sadhana has these seven limbs near the beginning. Doing these practices well is the source of all realizations. For us beginners these are very important, and high bodhisattvas also do these practices. They're an easy, convenient way of creating vast good karma. Every sentient being, including you, has buddha nature. But you have to activate it, to make it workable. To make a seedling grow into a tree, you have to water and fertilize it. Doing these practices functions like that in relation to your buddha nature. By purifying negativities and generating great merits, you activate your buddha nature, making it easier to achieve realizations such as bodhichitta.

The first limb is prostration. The Sanskrit namo means "respect," and prostration is an expression of respect. There are three kinds of prostration—physical, verbal, and mental. Bowing your head, folding your hands, and so forth are physical forms of prostration. There are also physical prostrations that engage your whole body. These can be short, with five points touching the ground, or long, with your whole body flat on the ground. When physically prostrating, you make the jewel-holding mudra by bringing your hands together in a gesture of prayer and inserting your two thumbs between your palms to represent a wish-granting jewel. This space between the palms represents selflessness and is unique to Buddhism. You imagine the jewel radiating light, and those light rays become clouds of offerings. Your right hand symbolizes method, and your left hand symbolizes wisdom; touching them symbolizes the union of method and wisdom.

With your hands in this mudra, you touch the crown of your head. This has many different meanings: it purifies negative karmas of body such as stealing, sexual misconduct, and killing; it leaves an imprint to untie the knots at your crown chakra on the completion stage of highest yoga tantra; it leaves an imprint to achieve the enlightened body of a buddha; and it leaves an imprint to attain a buddha's crown protrusion. Next, touching your throat purifies negative karmas associated with speech, such as lying, divisive speech, harsh words, and gossip; it leaves an imprint to untie the knots at the throat chakra; and it leaves an imprint to achieve the enlightened speech of a buddha. Next, touching your heart purifies negative karmas created with your mind, such as ill will, covetousness, and wrong views; it leaves an imprint to untie the knots at the heart chakra; and it leaves an imprint to achieve the omniscient, enlightened mind of a buddha.

Before prostrating, you can recite the mantra Om namo manjushriye namo sushriya namo uttama shriye svaha. Having reciting this mantra three times at the beginning, the merit created by each prostration is increased one thousand times. Again, keep in mind that you can do short prostrations touching five points to the ground or full prostrations touching the whole body.

If you understand the deep meanings behind prostrations, then they bring many powerful benefits. For beginners on the path, the main goal is typically to avoid rebirth in the lower realms and attain good rebirths so as to continue progressing toward buddhahood. Prostrating is the best practice for attaining rebirth in the higher realms. When you prostrate, each atom of earth your body covers during each prostration grants you that many rebirths as a wheel-turning king. You can count the atoms beneath you from all the layers below the earth's surface down to what we call the Vajra Ground. So from each prostration you'll be reborn as a Dharma king countless times! Since you create the causes for rebirth in lower realms through actions of body, speech, and mind, when you touch those three points on your body as you prostrate, you purify those three "doors" through which you've created such negative karmas.

From the perspective of highest yoga tantra, prostrations can also leave the imprint for achieving the illusory body. You can think of your five right fingers as the five root winds of your subtle body and the five left fingers as the five branch winds, which are manipulated in tantra as the basis for attaining realizations. Touching your hands to your heart then symbolizes drawing all these ten winds into the central channel inside the heart chakra. On tantra's completion stage, you have to be able to bring them inside the heart chakra. By thinking in this way you leave with each prostration the imprint to achieve the illusory body, the basis for the form body, the rupakaya, of a buddha! And once you achieve the illusory body, you will attain enlightenment in that very lifetime. Also, you can associate the five fingers of your right hand with the five sense powers and those of your left with the five sense objects; touching those at the crown, throat, and then the heart signifies dissolving those ten energies at the heart chakra, which leaves the imprint for achieving clear light, the basis for a buddha's dharmakaya, or truth body. Also, you can think that the right hand is the illusory body and left hand is clear light; bringing those two to the heart symbolizes the union of clear light and the illusory body, which is the attainment of enlightenment itself!

It's also very good if you can integrate your practice of prostrating with what are called the four infinites—the infinite sentient beings for whom you're prostrating, the infinite buddhas and objects of refuge, infinite bodies in front of those infinite objects, which you imagine are making infinite prostrations. The amount of merit or good karma you create when doing an action such as prostrating depends on your mind—on your intention—and so by integrating the four infinites into your practice of prostrating, you create infinite, inconceivable merit! In terms of infinite sentient beings, recall that the purpose of doing prostrations is for the sake of numberless, mother sentient beings who are exactly like you in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering. This wish is universal. As you prostrate, imagine purifying all their negativities and accumulating all virtues for them to be happy and free from suffering. Doing each prostration with the idea that it's not only for yourself but for all sentient beings creates the same amount of merit as the number of sentient beings you're prostrating for—which is infinite. In terms of infinite buddhas, if you have a statue in your home you can prostrate in front of it, but in your mind, visualize prostrating to numberless buddhas. Buddhas do in fact pervade the entirety of space, so visualize prostrating to all of them. You can also think of prostrating to all the buddha statues and stupas in this world. If you imagine numberless buddhas as objects of your prostrations then this again creates limitless merit. In terms of infinite selves, as you prostrate, visualize emanating numberless avatars of yourself, who all prostrate together. Imagine all your past selves—a self for each previous year of your life, each previous day of your life, and each previous second as well; then imagine all your previous lives as well prostrating together in human form. You can also imagine emanating these past selves to other realms where there are buddhas, prostrating to them too.

That covers physical prostration. You can also pay homage with your voice by reciting verses aloud as you prostrate. Any verses of praise to the enlightened beings can be used here. The verses for prostrating to the thirty-five buddhas from the Sutra of the Three Heaps are very good. Generating faith is the essence of mental prostration. By integrating physical, verbal, and mental prostration together, you simultaneously purify negative karmas of your body, speech, and mind.

The second limb is offering. There are two general categories of offerings—-surpassable and unsurpassable offerings. Surpassable offerings can include offering water for drinking, water for cleansing feet, flowers, incense, light, pleasing scents, food, and music as well as offering the eight auspicious symbols, the objects of the five senses, the seven royal emblems, and so forth. Each of these offerings has its own qualities and benefits. For instance, water's quality of moisture helps you to generate bodhichitta. Its cleansing quality helps you purify your negativities. Water's clarity, which reflects objects, helps you to understand the illusory nature of things—their emptiness. Offering flowers creates the karma to have a beautiful form, for just as flowers bring pleasure when seen, offering them creates karma to have a body that brings pleasure when seen. It also creates the karma to achieve a buddha's holy form. Offering incense creates karma to keep your ethics and vows purely. Just as lights eliminate darkness in a room, offering them creates karmic imprints to gain wisdom eliminating the darkness of ignorance. Offering lights particularly helps you to abandon the misconception grasping at a truly existent self and thus to attain the realization of emptiness. According to the tantric teachings, particularly those of Chakrasamvara, extensive light offerings also create the karma to realize inner fire and clear light. Offering scented water to the chest eliminates bad odors and has similar qualities to offering water generally. Food is required for survival, and offering food extends your lifespan. Offering music creates karmic imprints to attain the sixty qualities of Buddha's speech. In general you can offer whatever makes your mind joyful. Compassion for those who are suffering is also an offering to the buddhas, bringing them pleasure.

As with prostrations, you can integrate your practice of offering with the four infinites. Even if you're offering just a single piece of incense in your room, you can imagine offering every beautiful fragrance that exists. When offering even just one flower, imagine offering every beautiful flower in the world. You can apply this to the other offerings in this same manner. Recall that the purpose of making offerings is for the benefit all sentient beings and imagine making those offerings to numberless buddhas. You can also engage your body, speech, and mind together when making offerings—as you physically offer things you can recite mantras or verses while generating bodhichitta and so forth with your mind. This is how to go about making ordinary, surpassable offerings.

Unsurpassable offering is also called the Samantabhadra offering. Samantabdhara here refers to the bodhisattva Samantabhadra, to bodhichitta, and to the union of bliss and emptiness. The bodhisattva Samantabhadra is one of the eight great bodhisattvas. Though these eight are equal in their level of realization, due to the power of their prayers, each has his own unique qualities: developing wisdom for Manjushri, enhancing compassion for Avalokiteshvara, power for Vajrapani, increasing the fertility of earth for Ksitigharbha, holding the lineage of extensive deeds for Maitreya, purifying proscribed and naturally negative actions for Akashagharbha, purifying obscurations in general for Sarvanivaranavishkambhin, and making extremely extensive offerings and prayers for Samantabhadra.

There are a number of different ways to make unsurpassable Samanta-bhadra offerings. For one, you imagine yourself in the form of Samanta-bhadra holding a wish-granting jewel at your heart. Light radiates from all your pores, and on the tip of each ray is a Samantabhadra holding a jewel radiating light from all his pores, and you imagine that happening countless times, so that infinite Samantabhadras fill the expanse of space. Then light rays emanate from all their wish-granting jewels with countless flowers and other offerings. Alternately, you can imagine yourself as Samantabhadra in the center of a thousand-petaled lotus with a Samantabhadra on each petal. You all hold wish-granting jewels from which light rays emanate to all buddha realms, filling them with offerings.

As Samantabhadra can refer to bodhichitta, any offering made with the extensive motivation of bodhichitta can also be considered a Samantabhadra offering. This point is taught in the Sutra Requested by [the Bodhisattva] Ocean of Wisdom, which also says that holding the supreme Dharma is an unsurpassable offering. The White Lotus of Compassion Sutra similarly explains the benefits of the unsurpassed offering of putting whatever Dharma you've learned into practice. So the meaning here is that if you learn some Dharma and then put it into practice, you're holding that Dharma, and there is no better offering than that. Say you take up the practice of cleaning your meditation place as described earlier; that is a genuine offering of practice. You can do this with any teachings you've studied, and nothing pleases the gurus and buddhas more than offering your own practice. One way of offering your practice is to imagine the virtues you've created taking form—as a flower, for instance, or as an ocean of nectar—and then offering that form to your gurus.

Finally, according to tantra, Samantabadhra refers to a union of the wisdom of great bliss and emptiness. Actually, in tantric practice all offerings are thought of as being in the nature of great bliss and emptiness. They take the aspect of various offering objects, but their function is to give rise to the pristine awareness of the single taste of great bliss and emptiness united.

The third of the seven-limb practices is confession. As I mentioned earlier, we can divide the seven limbs into two things: accumulation and purification. The practice of confession is specifically for purifying. There are various things to be purified, but the main thing to be purified is negative karma. Anyone can create bad karma, but only those who've taken vows and commitments can transgress those. If you've taken individual liberation vows, bodhisattva vows, or tantric vows or commitments, you should purify any mistakes you've made regarding those. You can also purify other obstacles to enlightenment like fundamental ignorance and the subtle imprints that are obscurations to omniscience that even arhats and arya bodhisattvas have before they become fully enlightened buddhas. When you practice confession, your intention is to purify all these negativities of the past and present.

The main thing to be purified, negative karma, has two definitions—actions that bring suffering generally and actions that brings the suffering of rebirth in the lower realms in particular. Whereas positive karma naturally brings pleasure and happiness, negative karma by definition is what makes you uncomfortable and unhappy. We've all performed lots of negative actions in this life. And although you can't remember your previous lives, you can infer that you've accumulated huge stores of negative karmic actions in previous lives. The very fact that you meet with many difficulties in this life is proof that you created many negative actions in previous lives.

One good quality of bad karma is that no matter how heavy it is, it can be purified using these four powers! During the Buddha's time, Angulimala killed 999 people, cutting off each of their little fingers to make a finger-rosary. Yet in that very lifetime he engaged in purification and became an arhat! Also, King Deche Sangpo created one of the heaviest of negative karmas by killing his mother, but he then generated strong regret, becoming overcome with grief and dismay. He practiced the four opponent powers and became an arya in that very life. Another king, Maketa, killed his father but then practiced purification and became an arhat. Any negative karma can be purified through confessing in the context of practicing the four opponent powers.

You begin practicing the four opponent powers by generating bodhichitta. The power of reliance has two aspects, and this initial generation of bodhichitta fulfills one of those. Next you focus in the second power: intelligent regret. To generate intelligent regret for your negative actions, you have to understand which actions are negative and contemplate what sorts of bad results they bring until you become afraid or terrified. Each negative action brings three kinds of karmic results: the ripened result, the result similar to the cause, and the environmental result. For example, with killing, the result similar to the cause is that when you're reborn as a human you have a short life, which is similar to the cause as you shortened others' lives by killing. The environmental result of killing is being reborn in a violent place where lots of killing occurs. The ripened result of heavy negative karma is rebirth in hell realms, of medium negative karma is rebirth in hungry ghost realms, and of small negative karma is rebirth in animal realms.

It's easy to see the suffering of animals. Animals are always afraid, constantly alert to danger. Some animals can't find enough food or water. Even domestic animals suffer from inability to express themselves, lack of intelligence to avoid some problems, and so forth. We can help them with some obvious sufferings, but there are many other kinds of suffering they experience about which we cannot do anything. The sufferings of the hells and hungry ghost realms are hidden to us, but you can imagine them. You can read about the eight hot hells, the eight cold hells, and the neighboring hells, as well as the specific sufferings of hungry ghosts. By contemplating in detail, repeatedly, on these various suffering results of your negative actions, you'll generate pure, reasonable regret, the opponent power from which the rest develop naturally.

This intelligent fear of suffering leads you to sincerely look to the three objects of refuge for help in purifying. So the second aspect of the power of reliance—refuge—develops naturally from regret itself. You sincerely turn to the Three Jewels for protection from that suffering. And your regret and refuge give rise to a natural enthusiasm for following the advice of the Three Jewels by applying the power of the antidote, engaging in recitations or practices to counteract the force of your negative actions. Six practices in particular are emphasized for the power of the antidote—reciting the names of tathagatas such as those of the thirty-five confession buddhas; reciting mantras such as the hundred--syllable mantra of Vajrasattva, the mantra of Akshobhya, or the mantra of Samayavajra; reciting sutras such as the Vajra-Cutter Sutra or the Sutra of Golden Light; meditating on emptiness; making intensive offerings; and making statues of buddhas. Generally speaking, any virtuous action can serve as an antidote to your negative actions. If you generate the other three opponent powers, then even offering one piece of incense or doing your sadhana can serve as the power of the antidote.

Lama Tsongkhapa practiced intensive purification by reciting the names of the thirty-five buddhas of confession. This practice from the Sutra of the Three Heaps includes both reciting a sutra and reciting the names of buddhas. It is profound because each of those thirty-five buddhas when they were still bodhisattvas made special prayers and dedications to help others to purify, so when you recite their names, you receive benefit from their past dedications. Even just reciting the name of one of those buddhas can purify many eons of negative karma, and if you combine your recitation with physical prostrations, it becomes extremely powerful. If you prostrate reciting just one name today and then the next name tomorrow, then after thirty-five days you will have purified a great deal of negative karma and will also naturally begin memorizing the names! Master Shantideva advised reciting this practice three times each day and three times each night to purely keep one's bodhisattva vows; this is a powerful practice for purifying transgressions of those vows. It's best if you can prostrate while reciting, but if you can't do that, then it's sufficient to simply recite the prayer.

The final opponent power is restraint. Once you've sincerely contemplated the consequences of negative actions and generated fear, you'll voluntarily want to refrain from such actions in the future. If an action is not very difficult to give up, then it's good to commit to forgoing it for the rest of your life. With negative actions to which you're quite habituated, however, you can begin by committing to avoid them for shorter periods of time—say a day or two—and gradually build up to longer periods.

Engaging in those four opponent powers as part of your daily practice is essential for generating realizations. For those who cannot engage in intensive Dharma practices, it's excellent to focus on purification. Since negative karma causes all suffering, this will protect you from suffering. The mahasiddhas, or great adepts, of the past engaged in purification throughout their whole lives. You'll find it's not difficult and it's very helpful if you do likewise.

The next of the seven limbs is rejoicing, which is a really wonderful practice. In the Collection of Sutras, it says that it's possible to measure the weight of Mount Meru but that the weight of the merits you gain by rejoicing in others' good deeds is immeasurable. Lama Tsongkhapa said rejoicing in others' merits is a way to accumulate lots of merit without much effort. You can rejoice in the virtues of five different kinds of beings: buddhas, bodhisattvas, solitary realizers (pratyekabuddhas), hearers (shravakas), and ordinary beings. Rejoicing in the buddhas' virtues can include thinking of their first generating bodhichitta, of their many practices while on the path, and also in their infinite virtues as buddhas. Rejoicing in the virtues of the bodhisattvas includes rejoicing in their practices of abandoning self-interest and cherishing others, of practicing the six perfections, of engaging in the four ways of gathering disciples, and so forth. Solitary realizers and hearers have many amazing virtues and good qualities as I described earlier. There are so many positive actions that holy and ordinary beings have done, and you can rejoice in all of them. Don't discriminate when rejoicing: if someone lower than you or from a different religious tradition does something positive, rejoice! Rejoicing is such an easy practice. You can engage in it through your three doors: you can rejoice physically by folding your hands at your heart to pay respect; verbally by praising their actions aloud; mentally by understanding their actions, feeling joy about them, and wishing to act similarly. When participating in a gathering where virtuous deeds are done, you accumulate the same merits as others just by rejoicing in what they're doing. If you just go around seeing others do good things and rejoicing, this allows you to create a lot of merit without much effort.

Jealousy is the opposite of rejoicing. Jealousy makes us miserable and rejoicing makes us happy. Also, rejoicing makes sense. If you have compassion, and particularly if you've taken the bodhisattva vows, then your intention is for others to be happy and free from suffering. When you see others doing positive, virtuous things, you should recognize that they're liberating themselves from suffering and leading themselves to happiness. Strive to feel like a parent who sees her child doing the right things—doing well in school and so forth—and so is joyful!

Only rejoice in positive deeds, not negative ones. Rejoicing in others' virtues allows you to create as much merit as they are creating, but rejoicing in others' harmful deeds causes you to create a similar amount of bad karma. If someone kills a person and you rejoice in that, you create the same amount of negative karma as the murderer! When you watch television or read the news, it's very easy for negative rejoicing to arise. Such negative rejoicing doesn't help anybody and harms you. So take care to only rejoice in the positive actions of others.

The fifth limb is requesting the wheel of Dharma be turned. There are numberless buddhas. During the first of his three eons of practicing the path, Buddha Shakyamuni accumulated merit in the presence of 75,000 buddhas, in his second eon 76,000 buddhas, in his third eon 77,000 buddhas. When Buddha achieved enlightenment he remained silent for a while. Then the god Brahma came to him and offered a Dharma wheel, requesting him to teach. So you can imagine yourself in Brahma's form approaching thousands of buddhas, requesting them to turn the wheel of Dharma. Doing this practice purifies the negativity of abandoning the Dharma. Through this also you won't be separated from the Dharma in the future.

The sixth limb is requesting the field of merit to not depart to nirvana. You ask them to remain in the world to benefit all sentient beings. This practice purifies any negativities committed by disturbing the buddhas or your gurus. It serves as a long-life prayer for your gurus, and it also creates the cause for your own long life.

The final limb is dedication, which is crucial. Through your practice of the previous six limbs you created merit. Now that merit is the object of your dedication. Merit is like gold. Dedication is like a goldsmith making gold into objects; how you dedicate determines what shape your virtues will take. A goldsmith can fashion a sheet of raw gold into a Buddha statue or into any other object he wishes. He can turn the gold into a sacred statue or a toilet depending on his wish. Similarly, if you dedicate your merits for your future enlightenment, they become causes for that. But if not then they take some other form. Dedication is also like directing a horse by pulling the reins one way or another. Your virtues are like the horse, and dedication is like pulling the reins right or left. How you dedicate will determine where they take you.

There are many dedications for different purposes. Some people dedicate virtues for the welfare of just this life, which is not a good way to dedicate. Others dedicate just for future lives. Hinayana practitioners dedicate for their own personal liberation. Mahayanists dedicate for full enlightenment. You can control where your merits will take you. Of the many dedications, three are superior: dedicating for Buddha's teachings to increase and remain forever, because if these teachings remain in this world then we can study and practice them; dedicating for remaining inseparable from your guru so as to receive his or her teachings continually and put them into practice so as to become enlightened; and dedicating for your achievement of full enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.

It's also very good if you can seal your dedication with awareness of the emptiness of the dedicator, the object dedicated, and the goal dedicated toward. Emptiness is a direct antidote to self-grasping, which causes all the other afflictive emotions, so sealing your dedication with emptiness applies the direct antidote to all bad qualities. Merits dedicated with awareness of emptiness will never be destroyed by other afflictive emotions because emptiness is the direct antidote to all afflicted states of mind.

At the beginning of an activity you must set up a pure motivation, and at the end you must dedicate your merits. If you don't dedicate, it's like receiving valuable goods and then throwing them away. If you do one of those superior dedications, then other forces such as anger cannot destroy your virtues. If you dedicate virtues to buddhahood, then other forces cannot destroy your virtues.

If you know how to think, then the practice of Dharma is really quite simple. As was explained above in the context of Buddha's advice to King Prasenajit, the practices of rejoicing, generating bodhichitta, and dedicating are so easy to do at any time and create an enormous amount of merit, and these involve just altering your normal ways of thinking. But if you don't think properly and do not create a good motivation, then nothing you do becomes Dharma. If you're offering to Buddha or monks just to defeat your enemy, for instance, that's not Dharma practice! Since you do have buddha-nature, the potential to become enlightened, however, if you purify negativities and accumulate virtues then your buddha-nature will become activated and you will become enlightened. This is why practicing the seven limbs is so important. Even if you cannot practice the entirety of the stages of the path to enlightenment, if you do the various preliminary practices being discussed here, then you are holding the essence of the entire practice. Just doing the six preliminary practices is sufficient for maintaining the essence of Dharma practice.

Offering the Mandala

Next comes the practice of offering the mandala—offering a visualized version of the entire universe in a pure form. There are different versions of the mandala offering. The shortest version represents the cosmos with seven "heaps"—Mount Meru, the four continents, the sun, and the moon. In the Kalachakra tantra there's a version with nine heaps—the above seven with two planets called Kalagni and Rahu added. The long version of the mandala offering has twenty-five heaps. In Guhyasamaja tantra there's a mandala with twenty-three heaps, which is similar to the long one but without the golden ground and the vajra fence. In brief, you can offer any beautiful objects in your mandala offering practice. The great yogi Drupkon Gelek Gyatso made offerings all the time. Whenever he saw beautiful objects, he'd recite the verse for the short mandala offering.

Making Prayers and Requests

After offering the mandala, Easy Path says to make fervent and sincere supplications. Here, there are four kinds of supplications you can make: the prayer for the three great purposes, the prayer for opening the door of supreme fields, the prayer of heaps of blessings, and the planting the stake prayer.

The prayer for the three great purposes is made particularly after you offer the short mandala prayer with seven heaps. This prayer is as follows:

I prostrate and go for refuge to the guru and the precious Three Jewels. Please bless my mind. Please pacify immediately all wrong conceptions—from incorrectly devoting to the guru up to the subtle dualistic views of the white, red, and black visions—that exist in my mind and in the minds of all mother sentient beings. Please generate immediately all the correct realizations, from devotion to the guru up to enlightenment within my mind and within the minds of all mother sentient beings. Please pacify immediately all outer and inner obstacles to actualizing all the stages of the path to enlightenment within my mind and within the minds of all mother sentient beings.

The request to pacify the subtle dualistic view of the white, red, and black visions refers to an advanced level of the completion stage of highest yoga tantra; in that context those are obstacles that must be abandoned to realize the clear light, the illusory body, and the state of union, thereby becoming a buddha. If one is practicing Sutrayana exclusively, then one prays instead that all obstacles may be removed up to the realization of the two selflessnesses—of persons and phenomena—so as to attain the path of no-more learning. You can see by this that the first great purpose is to pacify all incorrect states of mind, the second is to generate all the qualities from relying on the teacher up to buddhahood, and the third is to pacify all obstacles to your own and others' achieving those realizations. If you don't want to pray with these more extensive, poetic words, you can just pray as follows:

By offering this mandala may I be able to abandon all bad qualities, generate all good qualities, and eliminate all outer, inner, and secret obstacles.

Outer obstacles are things like enemies, demonic hindrances, and political, economic, or social problems; inner obstacles involve sicknesses; while secret obstacles are such things as the three root delusions in your own mind.

A second kind of prayer you can do here is the prayer for opening the supreme fields, meaning fields of merit. Extensive versions of this prayer have been translated into English. In this prayer, you call on your guru and to each of the lineage gurus by name, asking them to bless you. It's called a prayer for opening the supreme fields because it includes prayer to Lama Tsongkapa followed by receiving his blessings to receive his knowledge and realizations, which are supreme.

The third kind of prayer you can do here is the prayer of heaps of blessings. For this you recite the brief prayer summarizing the stages of the path to enlightenment by Lama Tsongkhpa entitled "The Foundation of All Good Qualities." Each verse ends with requesting your guru to "bless me," and you recite that final line of each verse twice, receiving heaps of blessings from your guru.

Next rays of light radiate from the Hum at the heart of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. They penetrate all the infinite fierce and peaceful deities who are seated around him. Those deities thereby transform into light and, condensing, dissolve into Shakyamuni Buddha; your root guru also dissolves into him, and he comes to the crown of your head. From that transformation you observe on the crown of your head a lion throne with a variegated lotus, moon, and sun mandalas. Upon that is my kind root guru in the aspect of the Conqueror, Shakyamuni Buddha. His body is the color of refined gold. His head has a crown protrusion. He has one face and two arms. His right hand presses the earth. In his left hand, which is in the gesture of meditative equipoise, rests an alms bowl filled with nectar. He wears elegantly the three saffron robes of a monk. He has a body of pristine, luminous light adorned by the marks and signs. He sits in the vajra posture amid an aura of light.

Offer a condensed version of the seven-limb practices along with the mandala. Then think that you are praying in unison with all mother sentient beings, who surround you:

Embodiment of the four bodies, guru supreme deity:
to Shakyamuni Vajradhara I make requests.

Embodiment of the truth body, free of obscurations, guru supreme deity:
to Shakyamuni Vajradhara I make requests.

Embodiment of the great-bliss enjoyment body, guru supreme deity:
to Shakyamuni Vajradhara I make requests.

Embodiment of the various emanation bodies, guru supreme deity:
to Shakyamuni Vajradhara I make requests.

Embodiment of all gurus, guru supreme deity:
to Shakyamuni Vajradhara I make requests.

Embodiment of all meditational deities, guru supreme deity:
to Shakyamuni Vajradhara I make requests.

Embodiment of all buddhas, guru supreme deity:
to Shakyamuni Vajradhara I make requests.

Embodiment of all holy Dharma, guru supreme deity:
to Shakyamuni Vajradhara I make requests.

Embodiment of all Sangha, guru supreme deity:
to Shakyamuni Vajradhara I make requests.

Embodiment of all dakinis, guru supreme deity:
to Shakyamuni Vajradhara I make requests.

Embodiment of all Dharma protectors, guru supreme deity:
to Shakyamuni Vajradhara I make requests.

In particular [beseech]:

Unity of all objects of refuge, guru supreme deity:
to Shakyamuni Vajradhara I make requests.

All mother sentient beings and I have been born in samsara and have endured a host of intense sufferings over a long time. This is a result of not relying properly upon the spiritual teacher in both thought and deed. Therefore, guru deity, please bless me and all mother sentient beings to now rely properly upon the spiritual teacher in both thought and deed.

The other three kinds of prayers don't appear in Easy Path, but the planting the stake prayer does. Before reciting this prayer, visualize light rays radiating from the Hum syllable at the heart of the central figure of the merit field—your guru in the form of Shakyamuni Buddha with Vajradhara in his heart. Those light rays cause all the lineage masters of the profound view to dissolve into Manjushri, those of the lineage of extensive deeds to dissolve into Maitreya, those of tantra to dissolve into Vajradhara, and all your personal teachers to dissolve into your root guru. These four figures then dissolve into the central figure, Shakyamuni Vajradhara. Shakyamuni Vajradhara, inseparable in essence from your root guru, then comes to the crown of your head. He is a three-tiered being: Shakyamuni Buddha with Vajradhara at his heart, who himself has a Hum syllable at his heart.

Focusing on your root guru in this form atop your head, again do a brief seven-limb prayer, a short mandala offering, and this prayer called "planting the stake" because it's like when you stick a dagger into the ground when putting up a tent—you have to hit the dagger again and again on one point to make it go deep. You are similarly here praying again and again to the one guru atop your head. The meaning of this prayer is very similar to the verse in the Guru Puja that says:

You are my guru, you are my deities, you are the dakinis and Dharma protectors.
From this moment until enlightenment, I need seek no refuge other than you.
In this life, the bardo, and all future lives, hold me with your hook of compassion.
Free me from samsara and nirvana's fears, grant all attainments, be my unfailing friend, and guard me from interferences.

This prayer in Easy Path and most of the Guru Puja comes from the text I mentioned earlier called the Tushita Emanation Scripture, which is not made of paper and ink. It was received by Lama Tsongkhapa from Manjushri and was then passed down from master to disciple by highly realized masters of the Ganden Oral Tradition. Panchen Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen was the first master to write these verses and prayers down so that now we can use them in our practice.

In terms of the meaning of this prayer above, "embodiment of the four bodies" means that the root guru atop your head is an expression of the four bodies, or kayas, of a buddha—the truth body and nature body, which fulfill one's own purposes, as well as the enjoyment body and emanation bodies, which fulfill the purposes of others. The "truth body," the dharmakaya, "free of obscurations" refers to the buddha's mind, which is purified of all temporary stains of the afflictive emotions and also of all natural stains or impurities of grasping at true existence. Having purified those two is the truth of the cessation of suffering. The next two verses are requests to the guru as the enjoyment body, or sambhogakaya, which manifests to benefit arya bodhisattvas, and the emanation bodies, or nirmanakayas, which manifest to benefit all different kinds of sentient beings. The next line is for recognizing your root guru as the embodiment of all your gurus—not seeing them as different in essence. The next is for recognizing your guru as the embodiment and source of all meditational deities, referring to all the deities of the four classes of tantra. The next is for seeing your guru as embodying all the buddhas, including the thousand buddhas of this eon, the seven Medicine Buddhas, the thirty-five buddhas of confession, and so forth. The next refers to your guru as embodying of all the holy Dharma—both the transmitted Dharma and the Dharma borne of inner realization. The actual cessation of all negativities is also the Dharma. Thus, your guru embodies all these. The verse next is for seeing your guru as embodying the entire Sangha, including bodhisattvas, solitary realizers, and hearers. The next verse refers to the dakas and dakinis, such as those abiding in the twenty-four holy places of this earth, seeing all of them as embodied in the guru. The next verse refers to the guru as embodying the Dharma protectors, referring to Six-Armed Mahakala, who protects great-scope practitioners, Vaishravana, who protects middle-scope practitioners, and Yamaraja, who protects small-scope practitioners. In the merit field for Easy Path or for the Guru Puja, we generally only include those three protectors, though some people also include other enlightened protectors as well.

Earlier we visualized all these various figures in the merit field, and then they all dissolved into the guru atop your head. He thus embodies the essence of all those beings. This is an essential point for practicing guru yoga—seeing all enlightened beings as emanations of your guru and seeing your guru as the embodiment of all enlightened beings. The last line requests the guru as "unity of all objects of refuge." We prayed to guru as embodying each of those qualities individually, and now we pray to the guru as the source of protection who embodies all qualities in one. We especially pray for our wishes to be fulfilled, particularly requesting blessings to gain the realization of guru devotion. At then end of your prayer, five-colored nectars and lights dissolve into the crowns of your own and others' heads. This descent of lights and nectars completes the preliminaries.

The Absorption of Light Rays and Nectars

With this supplication, streams of five-colored nectars together with rays of light descend from the body of your guru deity upon your crown. These streams enter the bodies and minds of all sentient beings and yourself, thereby purifying all misdeeds and obstructions accumulated from beginningless time. In particular they purify all the misdeeds, obscurations, sicknesses, and spirit possessions that prevent the ability to depend properly upon the spiritual teacher in both thought and deed. [Your and all others'] bodies transform into the nature of pristine, luminous light. All [your and others'] good qualities, such as a long lifespan and merit, are increased and expanded. In particular, think that these streams have produced in the minds of yourself and all others the special realization that enables you to rely properly upon the spiritual teacher in both thought and deed.

I mentioned visualizing the descent of light rays and five-colored nectars in the context of refuge practice. Here this appears in detail in Easy Path. This visualization is very profound, and you'll encounter it again below, integrated with each meditation topic. So I'll explain how to visualize and the meanings here, and you should apply your understanding as you progress through the various meditation topics throughout the rest of the book.

This visualization is extremely important; it doesn't appear in earlier texts on the stages of the path. It is a unique, profound instruction for integrating tantric visualization with the meditations on the stages of the path that was passed down orally from guru to disciple until Panchen Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen wrote it here.

Receiving blessings through visualizing light rays descending into you is found in the exoteric tradition of Sutrayana, but receiving blessings from your gurus through the descent of nectars is unique to tantra, to Vajrayana. This practice has many levels of meaning and leaves important imprints for actualizing the path to enlightenment quickly.

In terms of how to visualize, imagine five rays each of a different color emanating from your guru, who is inseparable from the Buddha atop your crown. These rays are white, yellow, red, green, and blue. On each ray flows nectar that's the same color as that ray, coiling along the ray and dripping into you. There are three kinds of nectar—wisdom nectar destroying the afflictive emotions, nectar of deathlessness, and medicinal nectar. The nectars flow along the rays much like water in a heavy rain flows along a taut rope that's holding up a tent. These nectars and light rays of five colors flow into you and all sentient beings, who you're visualizing around you, totally cleansing all your bodies and minds. As your bodies are filled, they become utterly purified, pristine, and luminous. They no longer appear solid; they are clear like rainbows or like holograms.

As the text says, the nectars purify all of your misdeeds, the afflictive emotions obscuration, the obscuration to omniscience, sicknesses, spirit possessions, and particularly all obstacles to fully realizing whichever meditation topic you're contemplating. Then the nectars increase qualities such as lifespan, merit, and realizations of all the stages of the path, including whichever topic you're meditating on.

The light rays descending symbolize your being blessed to realize clear light. The nectars descending symbolize your being blessed to realize great bliss and the illusory body. Their coming down together symbolizes your being blessed to realize great bliss unified with the wisdom understanding emptiness as well as the union of clear light and the illusory body. The text says that through this blessing, your and all others' bodies transform into the nature of "pristine, luminous light." Here the meaning is similar. "Pristine" means that your body takes on the appearance of being totally pure and clear, like an extremely clean mountain lake. It's utterly without stain or impurity. This pristine quality also symbolizes the illusory body. As I mentioned, your body takes on an appearance like a rainbow; rainbow body is a synonym for illusory body. "Luminous" refers to the fact that your body is radiant, symbolizing clear light. Light has both of these qualities—it is utterly pristine and luminous by its very nature. So your and others' bodies being light symbolizes your own and all others attainment of the state of union.

On the path of highest yoga tantra, one who has received the initiation and keeps the vows and commitments begins by practicing the generation stage. The first of two stages, the generation stage involves the visualizations of deity yoga (seeing oneself and others as deities and the environment as a mandala) in the context of taking death as one's path to the truth body, the intermediate state as one's path to the enjoyment body, and rebirth as one's path to the emanation body.

Having completed the generation stage, one progresses to the completion stage, on which one is able to control the subtle wind energies of the body, bringing them into the central channel and thereby manifesting subtle states of mind. At a very advanced level of the completion stage, one becomes able to fully channel all the winds into the indestructible drop in the heart chakra, thereby actually manifesting the most subtle mind of innate clear light—a level of mind usually only manifest at the time of death. Using this subtle mind to meditate on emptiness, one realizes the example clear light. One then arises from this realization of emptiness in an impure illusory body, or rainbow body, which is not made of flesh and blood but of the most subtle wind energy that accompanies that most subtle mind. Having gained this level of realization, one has overcome ordinary death and will attain full enlightenment in that very lifetime.

By continuing to practice, one eventually again manifests that most subtle mind of innate clear light, and this time one is able to realize emptiness directly, thereby realizing the meaning clear light. One arises from that in a pure illusory body. The most subtle wind acts as the substantial cause of the pure illusory body, while the mind of the meaning clear light directly realizing emptiness acts as the cooperative condition for its arisal. At this point, one has achieved the union of abandonment—the union of the pure illusory body with the abandonment of all afflictive emotions. Having thus abandoned all afflictive obscurations, one has simultaneously become an arhat, completely liberated from all suffering, and has entered the path of meditation as taught in highest yoga tantra. Although one is an arhat, one has not yet abandoned the obscuration to omniscience; one is not yet a buddha. So one again gives rise to the most subtle mind of innate clear light directly realizing emptiness, thereby attaining the union of realization. This union of realization is a union of the pure illusory body and the meaning clear light. This is the principal union for a trainee still on the path who is progressing toward the state of omniscience. Such a trainee practices conduct with elaboration, without elaboration, and/or completely without elaboration until achieving the union of no-more learning, buddhahood itself, in that very life. You can see, can't you, that receiving blessings and creating imprints for these realizations is something very precious! It is so very beneficial to contemplate the meaning of these qualities of the visualization.

The five colors also represent the five wisdoms associated with the five tathagatas—or the five buddha families. The five tathagatas are the ultimate purity of the five aggregates, and the five wisdoms are the ultimate purity of their corresponding afflictive emotions. So as these nectars and rays descend, you should feel great joy thinking that you are transforming your five aggregates into the five tathagatas and the five afflictive emotions into the five wisdoms.

Color Tathagata Wisdom Attained Aggregate Purified Affliction Transformed
White Vairochana Mirror-Like
Wisdom
Form Ignorance
Red Amitabha Discriminating
Wisdom
Perception Desire
Blue Akshobhya Dharma-Sphere
Wisdom
Consciousness Hatred
Yellow Ratnasambhava Equanimity
Wisdom
Feeling Pride & Miserliness
Green Amoghasiddhi All-Accomplishing
Wisdom
Compositional Factors Jealousy

Another symbolism of the five colors relates to your body's five subtle energy winds, which naturally have the radiance of those five colors. When you gain enlightenment and create your own buddhafield in the form of a celestial mandala with a divine mansion surrounded by a ring of fire, fences, and so forth, that pure mandala along with the fire and so forth will all be made up of those five colors. This is because your five subtle energy winds will serve as the substantial causes of that mandala. These five subtle energies are the foundation of your current physical and mental experiences, and when you gain enlightenment, the divine mandala will be a natural expression of the enlightened forms of those five basic energy winds. So your visualizing the nectar with five colors has a special significance for purification.

Resultant Bodhichitta Practice

While you're engaging in the practices of the stages of the path, your guru in the form of Shakyamuni Vajradhara remains atop the crown of your head. At the end of your practices, you can absorb him through the practice of taking resultant bodhichitta as the path as follows. You begin with a prayer such as "I prostrate to my Guru Buddha, to the Dharma, and to the Sangha." Imagine that Guru Shakyamuni Vajradhara dissolves into your body. You then transform into Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. Think that your mind has become the truth body free from any conceptual elaborations and your body has taken on the aspect of Shakyamuni Buddha. This is taking resultant bodhichitta as the path, a skillful method for swiftly creating extensive merits that is part of the oral tradition from Gyalwa Ensapa.

In your heart center, visualize a white Ah syllable with a yellow Hum inside it. Light rays emanate from that Hum transforming all sentient beings into Shakyamuni Buddha's form, each with an Ah and a Hum at their hearts. Around the Ah syllables is the mantra of Shakyamuni Buddha: Tadyatha om muni muni maha muniye svaha. Next you recite that mantra ten, twenty-one, or more times, imagining that all sentient beings, as vast as infinite space, are reciting it along with you.

When your session is done, don't just jump up from your cushion. Pause to review and rejoice sincerely in the positive actions you've done and the merits you've created! Then dedicate those virtuous merits, reciting any verses you like. One such verse is:

Through these virtuous merits,
may I quickly attain the state of a guru buddha
and thereby lead all sentient beings
to that enlightened state.

 

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The Easy Path by Gyumed Khensur Lobsang Jampa and Guhyasamaja Center is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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